Twelve years ago, we were in the midst of another political campaign that pitted Vice-President Al Gore against Texas governor George W. Bush. Of particular interest to the Jewish community was the candidacy of Senator Joseph Lieberman, Democratic nominee for vice-president and the first Jew ever to secure a place on a presidential ticket.
That year I had the privilege of delivering a benediction at the Democratic National Convention. Needless to say, I was quite excited and very mindful of the historic nature of the event. Many people congratulated me on the honor, and no one ever asked me whether I was a Democrat or a Republican, including the folks who invited me to speak.
Now let's fast forward to 2012. My close friend, Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, was invited to deliver the benediction at the Democratic National Convention that took place this past August in Charlotte, North Carolina. What a difference 12 years can make!
Certainly there were many people who expressed pleasure at his having been invited to speak at such an important gathering, but Rabbi Wolpe was also the object of considerable criticism. One couple even dropped their membership in his synagogue because he had dared to speak at the "wrong" convention.
Both Rabbi Wolpe and I believe strongly that rabbis have no business endorsing political candidates. We understand what a debilitating effect that can have on a congregation or on a Jewish organization. But an invitation to deliver a prayer at a national convention, even a political convention, can hardly be construed as endorsing a specific candidate - at least that's how folks saw things in 2000.
Rabbi Wolpe's experience is symptomatic of a sea change in American life. No longer are blue and red simply convenient colors used by broadcasters to report election results. Now these colors have come to symbolize deep divisions in the American political psyche.
Political passion can be a wonderful, motivating force. But political passion combined with anger is a volatile mixture that leads to a breakdown in civility and mutual respect. It is particularly undesirable in our Jewish community where unity of purpose has often been the key to our survival and our success as a people.
No matter how passionate we might be, none of us possesses perfect clarity when it comes to politics. So before allowing our strongly held political convictions to develop into angry words or actions, we might do well to remember the words of Rabbi Abraham Ibn Ezra who emphasized that "true wisdom begets humility."